The atmosphere at Ottawa City Hall these days is one of concern.
And that’s because people are fearing for their jobs.
The big problem is that city manager Steve Kanellakos took on his post last May and inherited a $42-million operating budget deficit. That’s the largest in Ottawa municipal history.
Obviously that means some substantial cuts to personnel. You can’t make up that kind of deficit by reducing pencil use.
So until employees are told otherwise, they are concerned about losing their jobs. Some will.
With a record-setting budget deficit, one wonders what the old Mike Harris government at Queen’s Park would have done. The province holds enormous power over municipalities.
How much? Well cities such as Gloucester, Nepean and Kanata were wiped off maps with the stroke of a pen in Toronto.
Remember back in 2001 when the Ottawa Hospital was running a $18-million deficit. The province appointed Dennis Timbrell to oversee the hospital, find a new CEO and get the budget under control. Timbrell also appointed a new board.
Municipalities by law are not allowed to run operating deficits. But Ottawa has a whopper. No doubt Queen’s Park is watching that deficit but is unlikely to address it publicly because Mayor Jim Watson is a Liberal … well, nominally at least.
Queen’s Park can’t be seen skewering one of its own but were a Tory government in place, it would be making political hay out of this deficit.
The Ontario Liberals might not like Watson much (remember that he blamed the casino controversy on Premier Kathleen Wynne when it plainly was not her fault), but they are unlikely to publicly condemn Watson on the record deficit for political reasons.
The drastic action being taken on the operating deficit at present might be a sign that the province has dropped a phone call or two on the topic to the city.
That might explain the haste in getting the city out of the fiscal hole.
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